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The Shelf Life of Fuel: How Long Can Gasoline and Diesel Be Stored?

Posted February 28, 2023 by Tyler Moore

If you're someone who likes to keep a backup supply of gasoline or diesel fuel on hand, or you work in an industry that requires large quantities of fuel storage, you may be wondering how long you can safely store petroleum fuel. The answer depends on several factors, including the type of fuel, storage conditions, and the presence of additives or stabilizers.

How Long Does Fuel Really Last?

In general, gasoline and diesel can be stored for 6 months to 1 year without significant degradation if they are stored in a clean, sealed, and dry container or tank, away from sunlight, heat, and sources of ignition. However, fuel that is exposed to oxygen, moisture, or contaminants can deteriorate more quickly, resulting in reduced quality, lower octane rating, and increased levels of sediments or sludge.

To extend the shelf life of petroleum fuel, manufacturers often add chemical stabilizers to prevent oxidation and microbial growth. These additives can help the fuel remain stable in storage, as long as the fuel is kept in proper conditions.

It's important to note that prolonged storage of gasoline and diesel fuel is not recommended, as it can lead to the formation of harmful varnish, gum, or solids that can clog fuel lines, filters, and injectors. To ensure the fuel you have stored is still usable, you should periodically test for contamination and check the fuel for signs of deterioration, such as changes in color, odor, or sediment levels. If you suspect your stored fuel has gone bad, it's best to dispose of it properly and replace it with fresh fuel.

Person filling gas cans from a gas pump

What is Fuel Degradation?

Fuel degradation is a natural process that occurs when petroleum-based fuels are exposed to environmental factors such as heat, light, oxygen, moisture, and microbial activity. This process causes a breakdown of the chemical composition of the fuel and can lead to changes in its physical and chemical properties, which can affect its performance and usability.

The extent and speed of fuel degradation depend on several factors, including the type of fuel, storage conditions, and the presence of stabilizers or contaminants. Common forms of fuel degradation include oxidation, hydrolysis, and microbial growth, all of which can have negative impacts on the fuel.

Oxidation occurs when fuel is exposed to oxygen, causing the hydrocarbons in the fuel to break down and form gum and varnish deposits. These deposits can clog fuel lines, injectors, and filters, reducing the fuel's quality and performance.

Hydrolysis is caused by exposure to moisture, which reacts with the hydrocarbons in the fuel to create acidic compounds. These compounds can corrode fuel system components and degrade the fuel's quality.

Microbial growth occurs when fuel is exposed to moisture, providing a breeding ground for microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi. These microorganisms can cause the fuel to break down, resulting in slime and sediment formation.

Fuel tank showing many types of contamination

Fuel degradation can lead to reduced fuel quality, lower octane ratings, and decreased engine and equipment performance. To minimize fuel degradation, it's important to store fuel in clean, dry, and sealed containers or tanks, away from direct sunlight, heat, and sources of ignition. The use of fuel stabilizers or periodic fuel system maintenance can help prevent or slow down the degradation process.

If you're concerned about fuel degradation, it's important to monitor your stored fuel regularly for signs of deterioration, including changes in color, odor, and sediment levels. If you suspect your fuel has degraded, dispose of it properly and replace it with fresh fuel.

By storing fuel correctly, using fuel stabilizers, and performing periodic fuel system maintenance, you can help prevent or slow down the degradation process and maintain the quality and performance of your fuel.

Laws, Rules, and Regulations

Laws and regulations around fuel storage can vary depending on the jurisdiction, but they're designed to protect public health, safety, and the environment. In the United States, federal, state, and local authorities have established rules and standards for storing, handling, and transporting fuels.

One of the key federal regulatory bodies related to fuel storage is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has established the Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) rule. This rule requires facilities to develop and implement a spill prevention plan to prevent oil spills and to have appropriate response procedures in place.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is another federal agency that has established several standards related to fuel storage, including regulations on hazardous materials, flammable liquids, and compressed gases. These standards require employers to follow specific requirements for handling, storage, and use of fuels to ensure employee safety.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has also developed several codes and standards related to fuel storage. One example is NFPA 30: Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code, which provides requirements for the storage, handling, and use of fuels.

In addition to federal regulations, many states have additional requirements related to fuel storage and handling. For example, California has established regulations under the Underground Storage Tank (UST) Program, which require owners and operators of USTs to register their tanks, follow specific leak prevention measures, and maintain financial responsibility for any releases from their tanks.

It's important to note that regulations can change over time, and the specific laws and regulations around fuel storage can vary depending on the jurisdiction. Therefore, it's important to consult with local authorities or regulatory agencies for the most up-to-date information.

If you're planning to store fuel, it's essential to follow all applicable regulations to prevent accidents, protect the environment, and avoid potential fines or penalties. By staying informed about the latest regulations and guidelines, you can ensure that your fuel storage and handling practices are in compliance with applicable laws.

Fuel Polishing

Fuel polishing is an essential process for maintaining the quality of stored fuel, such as gasoline or diesel, and ensuring that it stays fresh over time. With fuel polishing, you can remove impurities and contaminants that can accumulate in stored fuel, improve fuel efficiency, and extend the lifespan of fuel storage tanks and equipment.

How Does Fuel Polishing Work?

Over time, stored fuel can accumulate contaminants such as water, dirt, and microbial growth, which can clog filters, corrode tanks, and cause engine failure or result in downtime.

With fuel polishing, fuel is transferred from the storage tank where it passes through a filtration system.

Before and after of polished fuel showing a major difference in quality.

The filtration process typically involves several steps, including:

  • Fuel is extracted from the tank and ran through a polishing system
  • Fuel is then filtered through a series of filters with different micron ratings to remove progressively smaller particles
  • Additives are often added to the fuel to prevent microbial growth
  • Fuel is tested to ensure it meets fuel quality standards

Fuel polishing can be performed manually or using automated equipment, depending on the size and complexity of the fuel storage system. In either case, it is important to select the right filtration solution for your fuel storage systems and follow proper safety procedures and regulations to ensure that the fuel is handled safely.

By following proper fuel storage and maintenance procedures, including regular fuel polishing, you can ensure that your stored fuel is ready for use when you need it, and prevent costly repairs and downtime caused by engine failure or performance issues.

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